Charlotte Fleming — ProCopywriters Member Spotlight Revisited

How has your business changed since your first Member Spotlight interview?

In lots of different ways: I do as much translating (Italian and English) now as I do content writing and I’m concentrating more on a couple of areas (wine and tourism – though the second one has taken a big hit from COVID).

My life’s changed somewhat, too. I’ve moved down to England after 22 years in Scotland and my partner and I live on a narrow-boat, cruising around the canals and rivers year-round.

What’s been your biggest success since your first Member Spotlight interview?

Completing my BSc degree (majoring in environmental studies) and my MA (in translation) through the Open University – a real slog, but so satisfying.

Why did you decide to focus on the kind of work you’re doing now?

I spent 16 years in the wine trade and 13 in tourism, so I feel I can talk to clients in their own language. Plus they’re both subjects I enjoy, full of variety (and occasional very pleasant perks).

What are you enjoying most about your industry or niche?

I love the puzzle-factor of translating, and also the process of honing the first draft into good English, which brings in my content-writing skills. But it can be frustrating!

Making a tourist venue sound alluring still makes me want to go there. Writing up a new vintage makes me long to get out to the vineyard, talk to the
winemakers, taste the wines…

What are you working on just now?

I’m working with a wine importer, creating web content and blogs for her. She’s been selling to the on-trade. COVID has really affected her business and we’re trying to get more private customers to buy her wines.

Describe your desk and what’s on it

My desk is the fold-down door of what’s known as a table-cupboard: it’s our dining table, sewing table and desk, and when I finish work it folds away and becomes part of the wall again.

A brilliant idea invented for the old working boats, where space was at a premium, it’s still brilliant today.

Tell us about your side projects

I’m translating a series of Young Adult fantasy books with an environmental theme, written by an Italian who lives in Ireland. I’ve just finished the second of five.

How has your writing process evolved?

Translation involves re-creating someone else’s writing in a new language, so I’m interpreting what they’ve written rather than writing from scratch.

It’s still a creative process, but I no longer have to suffer the curse of the blank page. My MA thesis was about the decisions taken during a 7,000-word translation.

There were dozens, from rearranging the syntax, because Italian is constructed differently from English, to choosing the right words to translate tasting notes – not as straightforward as it might sound. I love the challenge of bringing someone else’s work to life in another language.

What do you wish copywriters were more honest about?

How hard it is to well-paying clients when everyone thinks they (and their uncle, third-cousin-twice-removed or dog) can write. It’s the same with the advent of machine translation: we’ve all seen the howlers that poor translations can produce but everyone still thinks it’ll be fine for them.

What advice do you often hear given to newbies, but you don’t agree with? Why?

“The first thing you need is a niche.” No: the first thing you need to do is learn your craft, and the best way to do that is to write all sorts of stuff, whether it’s a website for a garage, a magazine ad for cosmetics or a feature article on woodland management.

Practice first, then decide what really excites you and specialise. If you niche too soon, you’re limiting yourself and that’s not a good idea for a professional.

Any lessons you’re still learning?

Of course! Life is a learning process.

The main one would be not to panic when the work dries up for a bit; it always comes around again, though not necessarily how you imagined it would – another reason for not niche-ing too soon or too hard.

What’s something about your work that makes your inner copywriting nerd happy, but you’re not able to chat about enough?

Unexpected adjectives. There’s far too much unstimulating, dreary writing. Good punctuation makes me happy, too, but it’s not a subject that crops up much in polite conversation!

What do you think?

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